Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anime Review: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

  • Episodes: 39
  • Airdates: 15 April 1990 - 16 March 1991 (Japan)
  • Studio: Toho / Group TAC / Gainax
  • Publisher: ADV (USA)
  • Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi

With the recent closing of animation studio Group TAC, which I first learned about in MarzGurl's latest Anime News Editorial, I thought I'd look into one of their previous works.  Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Japanese title: Nadia of the Mysterious Seas) was co-developed by TAC and Gainax, and directed by Hideaki Anno from the latter company.  Yes, that's the same guy who made Evangelion, but don't worry, this one's gonna go down a lot easier.  Besides, Nadia was my first anime girl crush, ever since I saw her on a media player skin in '02, so this review was inevitable anyway.

Here's the part where I get to wax on about the show's history.  It was first broadcast in Japan on NHK in 1990-1991 (or was it '89-'90?), with the run interrupted briefly mid-way due to budget troubles (or was it so the network could run news reports on the Gulf War?), and lasted 39 episodes.  The show was first licensed in the United States by Streamline Pictures - headed by the now-deceased Carl Macek, so you can probably guess where this is going.  I haven't seen any of that version, nor will I probably get the chance.  They only released eight episodes on VHS before they lost the rights in '96.  (Although it did have Wendee Lee of Haruhi Suzumiya & Lucky Star fame in the title role.)  Fortunately, ADV films acquired the rights in 2001, and released the whole series uncut with a new dub.

Nadia's plot is inspired loosely by Jules Verne's classic novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  (Which, for the record, refers to leagues across, not down.)  There is a submarine called the Nautilus, helmed by a Captain Nemo, but that's where the similarities end.  The main character is the titular 15-year-old girl Nadia, who owns a blue jewel pendant, the also-titular Blue Water.  Its only power happens to be to warn her of danger - anything else would be a spoiler.  So let's have at it: it also has the power to operate a superweapon, control the walls and floors in Atlantean ruins, and heal people from near-death.  And while we're at it, Nadia is the princess of Atlantis, and Captain Nemo is her father.  Her friends include Jean, the young inventor boy I happened to mention earlier, King, a gray lion cub, and Marie, who survived her parents being assassinated.  And they're all being chased by Grandis, a gold-digger girl who was clearly never ripped off of to make Jessie from Pok√©mon, and her two flunkies, Hanson and Sanson, who keep trying to steal the Blue Water.

But they pretty much only serve as comic-relief villany, because the plot picks up once they first encounter the Neo-Atlantean army, led by Gargoyle.  And on the other side of that conflict is Captain Nemo and his first-mate Electra.  In order to survive, Nadia's team is forced to join forces with Grandis's team and travel aboard the Nautilus together, with Gargoyle's fleet of "Garfish" submarines hot on their tail.  Throughout this story arc in particular, we are treated to two of the show's trademarks.  One is the submarine combat.  When the Nautilus stops to fight the Garfish and other threats, expect a lot of orders to be thrown around.  It's just like Das Boot, but with a couple of hot chicks... and Jean.  (Yes, I will look for any excuse to throw in extra tropes.)

The second of this show's quirks is Nadia's personality.  She a staunch pacifist, so much to the point that she can't take it when people die around her.  Some particularly interesting abuses of this are when Gargoyle shoots a henchman to torture Nadia into talking (Finally, an excuse for the Blofeld Ploy!), and numerous confrontations between her and Captain Nemo about the deaths on both sides of the war on Neo-Atlantis.  She's even a vegetarian, something Jean tries (unsucessfully) to fix.  Let me tell ya, if she were born seventy to eighty years later, she would make a great hippie.

Adding another item to the list of comparisons with Evangelion, Nadia has some episodes that are just completely pointless.  Evangelion had the last two episodes, and Nadia has the Island Arc.  Right after "Elektra the Traitor", perhaps the greatest plottastic bombshell in the series, Nadia, Jean, Marie, and King get stuck on a deserted island.  No, Oceanic Airlines was not involved.  But what we do get is eight whole episodes of their inconsequential adventures.  Even worse, one of them is actually a dream sequence. Still, nothing wrong with a good mushroom samba!  And even after the Island Arc, there are a few more filler episodes involving a guy from an African tribe whom Nadia gets the hots for before the plot picks up again - and by then, the series is almost over.  And about those two Evangelion episodes, the exposition scenes in Nadia are sometimes done in a similar minimalist style, but at least they're talking about stuff we actually *care* about.

This is one of the few series that I, given the chance, chose to watch in Japanese the first time through.  What's noticeable about the ADV dub is that they got actual children to do the roles of Nadia (Meg Bauman), Jean (Nathan Parsons), and Marie (Margaret Cassidy).  While I have to applaud them for authenticity, the results don't quite deserve so much praise.  You remember what Jake Lloyd was like in Star Wars Episode I, right?  Now, cross him with Tommy Wiseau of The Room and you've got Jean.  Yeah, I just broke you.  Okay, so it mostly gets bad once he starts to get angry about something.  Nadia and Marie are alright, but my call for the best actor in the ADV dub is Gargoyle (David Jones).  He is equal parts human, menacing, and Jeff Goldblum, just like a quality villain should be.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is quite the bipolar series.  When it's bad, it's just useless, harmless filler.  But when it's good, the story gets rather gripping and hits you with a little bit of everything.  Plus, say what you want about the island arc, but in retrospect it sure reminds you of Lost, only without the smoke monster.

Acting (English): 3 out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 4 out of 5
Writing: 4 out of 5
Technical: 4 out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

On that note, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water sure has had a lot of things ripped off of it.  Perhaps the most famous is Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a 2001 Disney cartoon.  They both feature a hot chick with a blue jewel pendant, a dweeby guy, Atlantis in some form, and a submarine.  Both are also based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but Disney has a bit more leeway with that since they adapted the novel themselves some time ago.  Then there's the characters themselves.  Nadia's design was borrowed by Hideaki Anno himself when he created the main character from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari.  And apart from Jessie like I mentioned before, play Gunstar Heroes and tell me one of the bosses doesn't remind you of the Grandis gang.  And in one final example that is bound to be only a coincidence, take Electra the first mate and King the lion cub and you get...  Elektra King from The World Is Not Enough!   ...I like to think only I could've come up with that, and maybe that's true...

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